Monday, December 4, 2017

Accountability Monday: 12/4/2017

🎶 It's [officially] the most wonderful time of the year! 🎶

I love the month of December because it's socially acceptable to wear Christmas leggings, drink peppermint mocha everything, and listen to holiday music round the clock. Welcome to my favorite season of all!

December is a month of reflection for me- what worked this year, what didn't, and what goals I want to set moving forward into a new year.

It's also a month of colder weather which means good things for my running game. We've got one more long run on the schedule, several 8-10 mile distances, and then two weeks of taper before the unofficial Goofy Challenge and Castaway Cay Challenge starts up in just about a month. Wow!

Wednesday: 3.1 mile run outside with 12:28 overall pace per mile
Thursday: Knee PT workout
Saturday: Volunteered at local race (I'm counting this as training 😃)
Sunday: 6.2 mile run with 12:06 overall pace per mile

This week was tough for training because of work and other social engagements getting in the way of my usual routine. If I've learned anything in the last seven years of running and training for races, it's that strength training is a must. I'm looking forward to getting more strength sessions in this week.

Best Run
I had the most fun on my 10k this weekend on our beautiful, local trail. These six miles definitely felt longer due to some major headwinds from mile 3 on, but I feel like it's getting easier to maintain my "easy" pace in the 12-12:30 range.

Fancy pants make any run better.

Bravo Moment

If you're keeping track, I'm down 5.6 pounds from early September! I finally feel like I am moving forward instead of slipping backwards with my weight loss/maintenance journey.

Check out this downward trend.

I attribute much of my recent success to the new WW Freestyle program which was just unveiled yesterday. As a WW Leader, I've been living the new program since September and I absolutely LOVE it. I'll write more about that in a separate post this week.

Runner Gift Wishlist Items of the Week
Because it's that time of year, each week on Accountability Monday in December I'll be highlighting an item or two that the runner in your life (including you!) might be wishing for this holiday season.

First up this week, one of my favorite products for winter running, Yaktrax Pro!  I've been selected as a Cold Conqueror again for 2018 and they're offering a sweet deal (15% off) on these until 12/10/17!

Please note that by purchasing through the link above, not only will you get a sweet discount but I may also earn a small commission through the Amazon Associates Program: Sparkly Runner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to [If you aren't comfortable with that, you can always head over to amazon and search for "yaktrax pro" instead. 😊]

The second item on this week's list is this awesome Neck Gaiter from Hoo-rag. I have several of these and use them anytime I'll be outside for a significant amount of time- hellooooo winter long runs! Hoo-rag's also got a sale going on and all their performance gear is 35% off!


Quote of the Week
A few years ago, work sent me to a Tony Robbins seminar. Some of it was good, a lot of it was weird, but most of it was positive. This week's quote is a good reminder about the consistency of change:

Have a great week, friends! Happy December!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Gratitude in 2017

For the first time in four years, I missed posting an annual blog for Thanksgiving. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, I put together a list of all the things/people I was grateful for and posted it here on the internet for anyone and everyone to see.

But I missed it this year. Not because I don't have anything to be thankful for, but because I wanted to dedicate a post specifically to folks that I've never thanked in writing before- strangers! Not all strangers, of course, but the kind of strangers you meet through running races.

Kids standing on the sidelines of a race with their expectant hands out, waiting for sweaty high-fives.

Volunteers shouting "water" or "Gatorade" at an aid station until their voices are hoarse.

A coffee-drinking couple sitting on their front porch, sleepily clapping as the runners pass them.

Enthusiastic cow-bell ringers, shouting encouraging words, motivating runners to keep moving forward.

Clever sign makers whose messages always elicit a moment of laughter during a tough section of a race course.

Medical personnel quick to jump in and help in both life-saving and blister-saving situations.

Police and security keeping all runners, spectators, and volunteers safe.

Some of my favorite strangers :-)

As a runner, sometimes I tend to think that races are all about me. My race, my pace, my experience. But that experience wouldn't be anything without all the strangers that come together to make it happen.

I've always been grateful for strangers in the running community but during an experience I had a few weeks ago, I had such a deepened level of respect for all the people who make a race what it is.

My friend Jeff, whom I affectionately call "coach," turned 50 this year and one of his goals was to run a 50 mile race for his 50th year on earth. He chose to run the JFK 50 miler, a race that winds through highly technical trail, tow path, and road in an extremely challenging 50 mile course. He set this goal a year in advance and some of our friend group reserved the date on our calendars with plans to help pace him during the race.

Coach and me after the 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon

Then the race changed its policies and folks were no longer able to run/pace with the race entrants. After exchanging emails with our group, some of us decided that we would come down and crew (meet Jeff at certain parts of the race and basically be his pit crew) and cheer for him- unbeknownst to Jeff.

Through the expert coordination of our friends Lauren and Chelsea, myself and another friend, Steff, successfully surprised Jeff at mile 15.5 of the course and then were able to see him at two other points of the race.

Selfies or it didn't happen.

While you're waiting for someone to run 50 miles, you have a lot of downtime. In addition to exploring the surrounding areas (and finding super cute coffee shops and restaurants), we would get to each checkpoint a little early and cheer for other runners and then after we'd seen and helped Jeff, we'd stick around and keep cheering for folks.

Cheering is serious business that requires a serious wardrobe.

At about the halfway mark, there was an aid station set up and staffed by my local running group, the Chambersburg Road Runners Club. These volunteers were out in the cold rain (it was the WORST weather in the morning), preparing food and serving runners. It was so awe-inspiring to see these people, who didn't have any runners in the race, showing up and working their station to help runners. They were making soup, cutting up fruit, and refilling water bottles. For complete strangers.

Jeff, slurping down some Ramen from the CRRC volunteers.

But these volunteers weren't the only ones standing around in the rain cheering for runners. We kept seeing the same folks at each aid station/checkpoint, each waiting for their runner like we were waiting for Jeff. And each continuing to cheer for other runners once their runner came through.

Towards the end of the race, we headed to the finish line about an hour before we expected Jeff to come through. We were all so inspired by the runners and we wanted to cheer for as many folks as we could.

We got out our clappers and cow bells and screamed until our voices were gone. We danced, chatted back and forth with the DJs, and cheered our hearts out.

Cheer Crew Extraordinaire.

When Jeff came through the finisher chute, I cried as I cheered. I can't articulate the emotions I was feeling- it was one of my most favorite experiences in the running community. He just finished running 50 freaking miles! In one day! I am still so impressed with his tenacity, strength, and grit. Way to go, Coach!

Once we made sure Jeff was ok, Lauren took him inside to so he could get a shower and get changed and Chelsea, Steff, and I made our way back to the finish line to cheer for the very last finishers.

Blurry, happy, finish line selfies are the best kind. CONGRATULATIONS, JEFF!! 

Every time I've run a race, there's been someone- a stranger- that has helped me significantly by doing something small. Every "Looking good, runner!," "You got this!," "Stay strong!" shouted from the sideline has helped me find the strength to keep going when I felt like quitting.

I hope our cowbell-ringing, clapper-clapping, shouting and cheering group of ladies were able to be somebody's stranger at the JFK 50 miler. Cheering is the very least I can do to give back to the community that's given me so much.

So, thank you, to every stranger I have encountered out on the race course. You are appreciated more than you'll ever know.

Have you ever encountered a stranger on a race course that made your day? Tell me about it in the comments!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Accountability Monday: 11/27/2017

Good morning, friends!

I hope you are reading this feeling refreshed and ready to start another week- and month! Can you believe it'll be December by Friday?

It's my absolute favorite time of the year for so many reasons: time with family and friends, time away from work, gifts, colder weather, Christmas lights, peppermint mocha everything- I could keep listing things but that's another post entirely! Basically, I adore the month of December and am looking forward to another fun-filled holiday season.

Tuesday- Treadmill 5k, 38:23, 12:23 overall pace
Thursday- 7.06 miles, 1:30:36, 12:50 overall pace
Friday- 16.01 miles, 3:32:01, 13:15 overall pace. Last four mile splits: 13:03/11:52/11:31/11:42
Sunday- 30 minutes on the stationary bike, light strength workout, foam-rolling, light yoga/stretching

26.17 total miles

Y'all, that 16 miler on Friday was no joke. Matthew and I ran the first 12 together and it felt like a struggle- I was over dressed, dehydrated, hungry, and just grumpy. I ran the last four by myself (after grabbing some Belvita breakfast biscuits and a bottle of water- which was incredibly helpful) and was shocked to see the paces I was able to keep. 11:31?! After running 13 miles?! Who am I?!

Best Run
Though the first part absolutely sucked, the 16 miles on Friday was my best run of the week. Each run teaches you something- this one reinforced for me the importance of staying hydrated and fueled properly. I'm grateful for the crappy runs; they help me appreciate the great ones. 

Bravo Moment
I hit every single workout I wanted to this week and I feel great! I have very little muscle soreness overall- even though foam-rolling yesterday was rough- and I feel like I'm getting stronger, mentally and physically, during this training cycle. 

Quote of the Week
In a season full of happy distractions, it can be hard to stay focused on what you really want. What I really want is to get to the start lines of the WDW Half Marathon and WDW Marathon healthy, happy, confident, and strong. So I have to keep myself on track, laser-focused, and taking steps each day towards my goal. 

Stay the course, friends.

What keeps you focused on your goals?

Have a fabulous week, folks! 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Accountability Monday: 11/20/2017

Helloooo late November!

I don't know about the weather where you are, but it was chilly this week in the mid-Atlantic! I think we've officially passed fall and are securely in winter. Which is totally fine with me- I'd choose to run in the cold over the heat any day.

Even though it was super cold this weekend, I am riding such a high from the last few days. If you follow me on twitter or instagram, then you know that my friend Steff and I surprised our other friend Jeff at the mile 15.5 marker of the JFK 50 miler on Saturday. Our friends, Chelsea and Lauren, were there to support his as his "crew," aka meet him at each checkpoint and help him refuel, change shoes, fill water bottles, swap out gloves, etc. Jeff had no idea we were coming down to cheer and we absolutely surprised him at the first check point.

Selfies or it didn't happen.

I'll be writing another post with all the details about spectating this race, but for now, just know that it was one of the most inspiring and uplifting experiences I've had being part of the running community. It was simply awesome.

Let's dive into this past week!

Wednesday: 2.47 treadmill miles with varying paces and inclines
Sunday: 11.25 miles, 12:52 overall pace + light strength workout post-run

I did not get to all the workouts I wanted to this week but I am pretty happy with how the long run turned out yesterday. For the Disney Marathon, I'd like to average between 13-13:30 pace and so far, this seems attainable. I'm also stoked with the splits during yesterday's run- they were generally even and the last two were 12:43.  Also, I made some new friends yesterday! 😉

A post shared by Sarah (@sparklyrunner) on

Best Run
Now that the sun sets earlier in the day, I find myself on the treadmill more often after work. Honestly, I'm learning to love it! I like that I can control the incline and the pace- I'm finding it's helping me push myself a bit more than I would if I were out on the road running. So the best run this week was my Wednesday night treadmill adventure.

Bravo Moment
This week, I'm giving out an honorary bravo to Coach Jeff; he rocked those miles at the JFK 50 Miler- congratulations, Coach! 

Quote of the Week

Yup, they sure do.

Have a great week, friends!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Accountability Monday: 11/13/17

Good morning, friends!

I hope you had an awesome weekend! Matthew and I went to Christmas Candylane at Hersheypark (super fun!) and then spent all day yesterday cleaning and decorating our apartment for Christmas. Because we travel so much this time of year, we like to have the decorations up long enough for us to truly enjoy them. 😍

Tuesday: 2.5 miles on the treadmill, 12:05 pace
Thursday: 2.36 miles on the treadmill, 12:43 pace
Saturday: Hip workout- crunches (3 x 10), clamshells with resistance band (3 X 10), glute bridges (3 x 10), with yoga poses in between sets
Sunday: 8 miles, 12:06 pace

With one full week of unofficial Goofy Challenge training under my belt, I gotta say, it feels so damn good to be marathon training again. There's something about having a big goal to work towards that makes me feel strong and focused.

Best Run
Yesterday's miles felt almost effortless. I jammed out to Taylor Swift's newest album, Reputation, and the miles just flew by. And yes, I'm a TS fan, judge all you want. 😜

Bravo Moment
I actually created and wrote out my training plan for the next eight weeks! While I've created training plans for myself in the past, I actually took the time necessary to put it down on paper, not just keeping it all in my brain. I'm really proud of how it turned out- check it out in yesterday's post!

Quote of the Week
I found this Amit Ray quote and it really struck me with how similar the fall season is to marathon training- growth, pain, beauty.

Make it a great week, friends!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

[Unofficial] Goofy Challenge Training Plan: 8 Weeks of Pure Magic!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor a running coach. All information found here is one experienced runner's plan for an upcoming race weekend. Please consult your physician and/or running coach before starting any running program.

In eight weeks (or 57 days), I will toe the start line for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and then the very next day, line up again for the Walt Disney World Marathon. I might be a little Goofy (please forgive my bad puns 😃), but hopefully with the right training, I can cross both finish lines upright with a smile on my face.

Since I am jumping into training at about the halfway point (most marathon plans are 16 weeks long) I don't have to condense these last eight weeks, which is awesome. I had been pondering adding the marathon for a while before signing up two weeks ago, but knew I wanted to sign up for it with enough time to train- safely and with the lowest possible risk of injury.

This will be my fourth marathon. For the first one, I followed Jeff Galloway's Dopey Challenge training plan to the letter.  I never missed a single training run, reached all four start lines without injury, and finished each race feeling awesome.

2014 Dopey Challenge finisher.

For my second marathon training cycle (Pittsburgh Marathon 2015), I followed a modified Galloway training plan. I also added in several strength training and yoga sessions. Even though I ended up having some feet issues (imagine that, right?!) which kept me from some of my long runs, and I only trained up to 15 miles, I finished Pittsburgh with a new PR and feeling really strong.

2015 Pittsburgh Steel Challenge (5k + 26.2) finisher.

My third marathon (WDW Marathon 2017) is actually the only one that I didn't complete as part of a challenge. However, this training cycle proved to be challenging enough! I followed Galloway's Walt Disney World Marathon training plan until early December when I had excruciating, unexplained foot pain that put me in a boot for about three and a half weeks. I was able to run long runs of 13, 15, 17, and 21 miles before the boot. Then I did absolutely no running for almost a month before the race. The actual marathon was painful. Really, really painful. But I finished, upright and smiling.

2017 WDW Marathon finisher.

So, with three 26.2 mile journeys under my belt, I wanted to combine everything that's worked for me in the past into this Unofficial Goofy Challenge training plan while still minimizing my risk for injury.

If you google "8 week marathon training," you'll find a variety of training plans. Most of these include 4-5 days a week of running and then another 1-2 days of cross or strength training. However, with my injury history, there's no way I'm running more than 3-4 times a week so none of these plans will work for me.

I created my own 8-week plan using Galloway's Goofy Challenge training plan as an outline, basically matching up the three remaining long run distances with weekends that would work with my calendar. Also similarly to Galloway's plan, on the off-long run weeks, I have planned for 6-10 miles on consecutive days to get my legs used to running tired.

I will be earning my turkey in a few weeks, that's for sure!

In addition to the long runs, I scheduled two, 30-45 minute easy conditioning runs and one cross-training/strength session per week. An important part of any training plan is flexibility- this plan should allow me to get in the miles needed to finish the races but also allow me to move things around if needed.

All I want for Christmas is to enjoy those 18-20 miles :-)

You may notice that the most mileage I'll run is only 18-20 miles. I've been doing some research about how far one should train up to for a marathon and there are a couple schools of thought. Some folks think you should run at least three, 20+ mile runs. Some folks think you can successfully train by only running three, 16-17 mile runs. Since this is my fourth marathon, I'm ok doing three, 17+ mile runs to prepare for the race weekend.

Any training plan with Disney characters is my kinda plan :-)

Will I go into Walt Disney World Marathon a bit under-trained? Perhaps.

But, I'd much rather get to the starting line a little under-trained and healthy than potentially miss the races by training too hard or running too much. I'm hopeful this plan will get me to the goal: finish both races upright and smiling!

How do you train for races? Do you follow someone else's plan or do you create your own?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Official Unofficial Race Plans: 2018

Good morning, friends!

There's so much to fill you in on- I don't even know where to start!

If you follow me on instagram, then you know I ran the Hot Cider Hustle this past Sunday morning (3 miles) and then ran 14 miles that afternoon for a total of 17 miles.

Now, why in the hell would I run 17 miles randomly? I'm not training for a marathon...

...I'm training for the Unofficial Goofy Challenge 😁

Marathon #4.

As you may know, I signed up for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon back in February. I debated for a long time about what to sign up for in 2018- marathon or no marathon? Goofy or Dopey? Just the half marathon or maybe the half and the 10k? Ultimately, I settled for the half and Matthew signed up for his third Dopey Challenge.

However, the full marathon was still open months after we'd registered and I kept feeling like I wanted to sign up for it. So, I used Runner's World Half & Festival as a mini-test; depending on how I felt after the 3 days of racing, I would either sign up for the full (in addition to the half) or just be satisfied with the half marathon. Still high on endorphins from an awesome and unforgettable weekend in Bethlehem, I registered for the full last week.

The Goofy Challenge (half + full) was already sold out by the time I registered for the full, so it looks like I'll be training for the "Unofficial" Goofy Challenge for the next eight weeks! I'm equal parts scared and thrilled but I'm really looking forward to this next training journey. Since I'm already trained up to the halfway point (13.1 miles), I'll be following a modified training plan for advanced runners (having run more than one full marathon). Expect to see more here about training in the weeks to come.

Most definitely.

Speaking of unofficial races, Matthew and I also decided last week that we wouldn't be getting our traditional castle picture with all our medals in 2018 after all...

2014 Dopey Challenge Finisher.

...because we'll be sailing on the Disney Dream right after the WDW Marathon as part of the Castaway Cay Challenge!... well, sort of...

By the time we decided we were going to do the cruise (like last week), the Castaway Cay Challenge was also sold out. So we decided that we'll just run the "regular" Castaway Cay 5k (which happens after the Challenge 5k) and complete our own "Unofficial" Castaway Cay Challenge. Bonuses of this approach: 1. Less money spent on race registrations means more money for beach side Pina Coladas. 2. We get to sleep in as the second "regular" 5k starts quite a bit later than the one associated with the challenge.

Island 5ks are our favorite.

We took this cruise in 2017 and completed the official Castaway Cay Challenge. Again, we'd debated about doing this again for 2018 and decided we weren't going to. But then we both had insanely busy and stressful fall semesters and ultimately decided that we wanted to take some time off and cruise again directly after WDW Marathon Weekend. So we're making it happen, just a little spontaneously 😉

Is it weird to be running the half and full marathon and not be considered part of the Goofy Challenge? Is it totally nuts to sail on the Castaway Cay Challenge cruise after WDW Marathon Weekend but not be part of the official challenge? I don't know. But after years of "extras" - shirts, medals, and race fees- I think Matthew and I will be ok.

2018 is going to be officially awesome, even if I get there in an unofficial way. 😜

What goals/races do you have planned for 2018?